Morning, ladies and gentlemen.
It’s United we have to deal with today and once again I find myself searching for imperative adjectives which will demonstrate how we need a win.
However, this time we need a win mostly for psychological reasons. Sure, City thrashed Newcastle yesterday (with a little help from Sergio Aguero), but dropping points won’t result in us disappearing into mid-table obscurity or plummeting towards relegation zone (unlike Chelsea). We’ll simply find ourselves 4 to 6 points off the top. Not pleasant, but not the end-of-the-world territory either.
It feels kind of funny to talk about being close to the top of the league after the midweek debacle, however, that’s the reality. We were poor in the Champions League, no doubt about it, but we aren’t nearly as poor in the league. West Ham aside, we only dropped points twice, both times courtesy of inept refereeing. Let’s get back to the game at hand, though and thus do something the journalists in Arsenal’s presser could not.
Needless to say, we have a bad record against United, failing to win any of our home games in the league for four consecutive seasons now, meaning our last win came in 2011. Our away record is worse still, the last time we’ve won at Old Trafford was in 2006.
Thankfully, we can ignore that last bit for now. Usually our home games are closer than away ones. It will forever remain a mystery to me how we didn’t beat the Devils in the last two seasons, when they were most vulnerable, however that’s another point beyond the … erm … point.
We can take joy from several things going into the game: we managed to beat United last year, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott found their goalscoring form and, finally, United aren’t exactly what they used to be under Ferguson. Their defence is particularly mismatched, with Darmian forced to play on the left, Blind centrally and Valencia on the right. Here’s hoping Sanchez and Theo will take full advantage of this.
Team news update
United will be without Shaw (poor lad), Rojo and Herrera. Carrick has recovered and I presume he’ll come straight back into the side for Schneiderlin.
However, we have our hands full with the injured players. The usual trio aside, we are going into the game without Koscielny and Flamini (both hamstring) and Arteta (dead leg). On the subject of Koscielny Wenger said:
“Lauren Koscielny will certainly be out, he has a hamstring strain and it looks like it will be three weeks, something like that”.
It looks like we are dealing with the standard hamstring strain, but I didn’t like the easy manner in which Wenger said “three weeks”. I may be reading too much into this, however I fear the injury will take longer to heal. Guess we’ll have to wait and see what Arsene says after the break.
This is a big loss for us, no doubt about it. This is also a chance for Gabriel to show his worth and establish himself as first-choice and I have to say with Gabriel available Koscielny’s absence looks less of a disaster.
Obviously the good news is that Olivier Giroud will be back in the squad, while I also hope there’s place for Iwobi or Jeff on the bench. I won’t hold my breath, though.
Squad and approach
Think it’s reasonable to expect Cech, Bellerin, Monreal and Ramsey to return. Bellerin will, as always, be invaluable when defending against a pacy winger (Depay in this case) and I cannot express how happy I am to have Hector in our arsenal.
To me the most intriguing is where Ramsey will start. On one hand, Ox wasn’t particularly convincing against Olympiacos. On the other, we all know what he did to United’s defense the last time he played them. We should also keep in mind Darmian is not a natural left back, so unleashing the Ox on him might just be the way to go. Finally, Oxlade also showed tremendous improvement in helping out his full-back. Here are his stats vs Olympiacos:
- 6 ball recoveries (all 6 on the right side of the pitch)
- ⅚ tackles (all 6 were attempted on the right side of the pitch)
- 2/2 clearances
- 2/2 headed clearances
On a side note, he completed 6 dribbles (out of 11 attempted), almost all on the right. What does it tell us? Two things: he hugs the line and helps out defensively. Which is good enough for me.
Also, Ramsey’s performances vs Olympiacos is nothing to be sniffed at. Yes, he only completed 30 minutes and his stats can’t be impressive because of that, but I think we all felt how much more direct and dangerous the Gunners looked with Rambo in the middle.
Will Arsene be inclined to give Oxlade another go on the right? Will he consider playing Ramsey through the middle? Who gives way if he plans to do both? The obvious candidate to me is Cazorla.
And look, I think we really might benefit from dropping Cazorla this time. Mostly because United are likely to field a trio of Carrick, Schweinsteiger and Rooney and none are particularly quick. Pinning any of them against an engine like Ramsey might be of more use than playing Cazorla once more.
However, based on experiences past, I’m pretty sure Wenger will stick to Ramsey wide and Cazorla central.
As for approach, I think we’ll try to dominate possession and territory as we always do at home. However, I was again intrigued by what I witnessed against Olympiacos in the opening stages. Knowing we have the perfect weapons to play on the counter, Wenger tried to set his team up exactly with counterattacking in mind. And our breaks looked dangerous alright, with the breathtaking speed Alexis, Walcott, Oxlade and Ozil demonstrated.
Might we try this approach again? After all it’s what worked at Old Trafford last year, it’s what worked against Leicester last week. Guess the selection of either Ramsey or Oxlade will answer that question. If it’s the former, we’ll try possession-based football. If it’s the latter, get ready for lightning counters.
Predicted lineup: Cech – Bellerin – Mertesacker – Gabriel – Monreal – Coquelin – Cazorla – Ozil – Alexis – Ramsey – Walcott
We need a reaction today. I’m sure we’ll see it. We are notorious for having setbacks, but we are famous to reacting to these setbacks. Rarely do we lose two in a row. And before you start shouting “Zagreb and Chelsea!”, I know perfectly well we lost both these games.
What I can say with the same degree of certainty, we gave a response against Chelsea. It was visible before Mike Dean fucked up the game and robbed us of a competitive encounter. There’s no guarantee we would have won had Dean made the correct calls, however, I’m sure we would have put up an almighty fight.
What about United? Frankly, they are near the top almost by accident. Apart from Sunderland (currently 19th) and Liverpool (who only picked up 4 points in their last 4 games), United are yet to win a game of football in the league by more than one goal. They are highly unconvincing and inconsistent at the moment and the football they demonstrate is mostly dire. I’m not joking, I’ve watched quite a few of their league matches.
So it will come down to us and our attitude. How we play. How we create our chances (Ozil and Cazorla lead the league, by the way, while Cazorla also has most assists since 2012 – 32). How we take these chances. So come on you Gunners. Tear United a new one.
I’m not sure I’ll make the game tomorrow (damn, damn, damn), but I’ll try to record it and watch later in the evening. Back with a review on Monday. Also, I’ll likely write an article on Arsene Wenger later in the week, so look sharp.